Sharks finish with a flourish

2008-05-11 00:00

The Sharks mixed the sublime with the ridiculous, but finished with a flourish to leave their supporters smiling after beating the Cheetahs 33-14 in their weekend Super 14 outing at King’s Park.

The Sharks needed a full house of five points to stay in semi-final contention and they orchestrated a grandstand finish in realising their objective.

Leading 19-14 as the match entered injury time, the Sharks still only had three tries and the nervous crowd were becoming increasingly edgy as the Cheetahs made the most of the running in a frenetic second-half. But this time the Sharks rewarded their supporters in the dying moments with two tries in two minutes — both by right wing Odwa Ndungane — to seal a bonus point and a flattering 19-point win.

The Sharks are now in fifth spot on the log and need to beat the Chiefs in the final match of the round robin round on Saturday night and hope that either the Stormers (away to the Lions) or the Waratahs (away to the Reds) or the Hurricanes (away to the Blues), lose.

At kick-off time on Saturday (7.10 pm), they will know just what they have to do in terms of match points and points difference to reach the final four.

The Sharks, predictably, attacked from the first minute, but had to wait until the closing moments to add the finishing touches. They also defended superbly, but two soft tries had them flirting with defeat as the Cheetahs controlled possession and territory in the second half.

Coach Dick Muir, seeking the tries that have eluded the Sharks for most of the season, advocated a high-risk approach and the players obliged as they spurned half a dozen kicks at goal, consistently ran from deep in defence and, at times, made silly errors.

The Sharks’ determination to score four tries before securing the match almost cost them. With lock Albert van den Berg carded for persistent transgressions midway through the second half, and Cheetahs centre Meyer Bosman stealing the ball from under Ryan Kankowski’s nose at the back of a ruck and running through to score, the Cheetahs trailed 19-14 with 15 minutes remaining.

They should have scored again with minutes remaining when captain and flank Juan Smith broke clear in midfield, but then kicked instead of passing to one of a number of support runners.

Coach Naka Drotske, not one to pussyfoot around the obvious, said that Smith’s kicking option was the turning-point of the game.

Drotske praised the quality of the Sharks rugby.

“The Sharks and the Waratahs have the best defences in the competition,” he said.

“The Sharks will also take great confidence from the five tries they scored against us. If they can make the semi-finals, I think they have a very good chance because of their excellent defensive pattern.”

Muir praised the character and persistence of his players.

“What pleased me most was their determination to score that fifth try after the final hooter.

But we have to do it all again next Saturday against the Chiefs and they are a dangerous team with plenty of talent and game-breakers.”

Individually, Muir will be delighted with the form of several key players. The hard-working Jacques Botes followed the ball up and down the field and his support play brought him three tries.

Front-row men Beast Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis were fearless in defence and on the drive, pensioner Johann Ackermann was a solid presence.

The negatives were the half-dozen lineouts lost on their own ball and the inability to win, and keep, possession in the second half until it was almost, but not quite, too late.

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